Like many people, Raquel Pennington has been having a pretty hard time over the past year and a half. Thyroid problems had her ballooning up in weight and disclosing medical treatment for that ended up getting her a six month suspension from USADA. And then like many other UFC fighters, she caught COVID-19. Unfortunately for her, she’s part of a smaller percentage of the roster that got a really bad case.
Pennington talked a bit about her 30+ day experience with the virus on the UFC Unfiltered podcast leading up to her UFC Vegas 37 fight against Pannie Kianzad. But now that the event is over and Pennington walked away with a unanimous decision win, she finally seems more comfortable laying out just how scary of a situation she was in.
“In April, I ended up getting COVID,” Pennington said during the UFC Vegas 37 post-fight press conference. “I coach high school gymnastics, and I think from just being around the athletes there, I ended up catching a really bad case. And it kind of just knocked me on my butt. It was pretty scary, honestly. I ended up in the hospital twice. I was on oxygen. I was on steroids for my heart and lungs. The migraine was just one of a kind, it was pain that was going down my spine. They had no answers for me.”
“I remember laying in bed one night and I was just like, ‘This can’t be it.’ Because I really felt like my body was just shutting down on me that was going to be the end of it … Fighting is a part of me, but it’s not who I am. At the end of the day, that was kind of one of those moments that gave you a real life reality check. It taught me to be a lot more grateful of things. I’ve always been grateful, I’ve always felt blessed. But now it just put things into a different perspective. And now I just handle life in a completely different way now.”
“Getting back into training, I had to really slow it down,” she said. “The fatigue for me was one of a kind. It didn’t matter what I did, if I threw a couple of punches, it felt like I had run 12 miles and then I’d have to sit down. So getting back into training this camp was … about a twelve week camp and about half of it was just trying to get my body past all the lingering COVID effects. I haven’t really felt like I’ve had any since then. I’m in the best shape mentally, physically, and emotionally, that I’ve been in a really long time.”
“The key to it is just rest, and to take it serious. I mean, I’m a young athlete and the healthiest in my family. And to see it knock me down? I was one of those people who was like if I get sick, I’ll sweat it out or do something, work past it like I’d do with a cold. And yeah, no. That wasn’t the case. So I had to learn how to slow down and find that patience and relax, recover, and that’s taught me a lot when it comes to training too. It’s not about the quantity but the quality.”
As for what’s next?
“I wanted to get out there and perform, and I’m healthy,” she said. “So I want to at least enjoy myself for a week or two, and then I want another fight by the end of the year. Anybody who was in the top ten. Before I got suspended I was ranked number 4. It’s going to be interesting to see where they place me back at. Which is frustrating because I always busted my ass to get where I was at. But you know what, it’s a clean slate, here we are. And the goal is a title shot, so anyone above me that’s going to get me there.”